Tuesday, December 18, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons rally from deficit, beat ’Rabs

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski trailed most of the game, but a pair of second-half technical fouls on Lonoke and some clutch shooting by the home team lifted the Falcons to a 74-66 victory over the Jackrabbits on Friday in Jacksonville.

The Falcons got evenly-distributed scoring in a huge fourth quarter that saw the home team complete a comeback from an 11-point deficit earlier in the game.

“We needed a win in the worst way,” North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson said. “We lost some tough, hard-fought games in that Conway tournament. Lost three in a row down there, and we just needed to win one. Lonoke’s a great program, some state championships, great tradition. It was a great win for us, especially coming back from behind like that. These kids don’t quit. I’m so proud of them right now.”

Lonoke held a lead of between seven and 11 for most of the first half. North Pulaski put together an 8-0 run at the end of the half to cut it to 33-31. Lonoke’s Jamel Rankin drained a jumper just before halftime to end NP’s run and send the Jackrabbits into intermission with a 35-31 lead. Lonoke assistant coach Heath Swiney was hit with a technical foul as the team’s were heading to the locker room.

North Pulaski’s Joe Aikens drained two free throws before the second half began to make it 35-33. Halfway through the third quarter, North Pulaski got its first lead of the game at 44-43 when Aikens completed an old-fashioned three-point play with a bucket and a free-throw. But the lead didn’t last long. Lonoke forced three turnovers on North Pulaski’s next three possessions and scored after each one. The Jackrabbits led 50-44 on a Blake Mack scoop shot with 1:38 left in the third.

Jackson called timeout and his team hit the floor with renewed spark. The Falcons scored the next five points of the game. Senior Daniel Drone drained a high-arching three pointer over Mack’s outstretched arm. Aikens then got a steal and a lay-in before Lonoke’s Darrius McCall hit a shot to end the North Pulaski run.

North Pulaski freshman RaShawn Langston added a bucket to make it 52-51 heading into the fourth quarter.

The wheels then began to come off for Lonoke. The Jackrabbits committed turnovers on their first six possession of the fourth quarter. After the first turnover, Aikens hit a 17-footer. He then intercepted the inbounds pass and found Drone streaking to the basket for a layup. Lonoke threw it away on its next two possession and Langston hit a floater to give the Falcons a 57-52 lead with 5:09 left in the game. Lonoke then scored five straight to tie it up in just 25 seconds. Jamel Rankin hit two free throws and McCall got an and-one to make it 57-57 with 4:46 left. Then came a key turning point.

North Pulaski’s Aaren Scruggs missed a three pointer. Drone and Lonoke’s Reid McKenzie went up for the high-bouncing rebound. McKenzie had box-out position, but Drone got higher. The NP guard caught the ball and shot it in one motion. The basket putback went in and McKenzie was called for a foul. Lonoke head coach Dean Campbell, who was confined to his seat the entire second half because of the bench technical at halftime, yelled his disapproval of the call at the other end of the floor, and was hit with a technical foul. North Pulaski made two of three free throws for a 61-57 lead with 4:18 left in the game.

“We had opportunities after that so I’m not going to say it decided the game,” Campbell said. “But I think the official was pretty thin-skinned to give a technical in that situation. I was doing what I was supposed to do. I didn’t get up. I just said it was a horrible call. In a game like this, at this level with two programs with so much tradition, a call like that, it cheapens it.”

North Pulaski’s lead grew to 63-58 with three minutes left before Rankin hit a three pointer with 2:46 remaining. Lonoke called timeout right after Rankin’s shot, but North Pulaski came out of the break to score the next six points to all but seal the game. Aikens, Steven Farrior and Langston got the three buckets that put the Falcons ahead by eight and in control of the game with 1:08 left.

North Pulaski still made it harder than it should’ve been by inexplicably fouling on consecutive Lonoke possessions. Rankin hit four-straight free throws to make it 69-65 with 48 seconds remaining. North Pulaski held the ball and forced Lonoke to foul. Langston and Drone hit five-straight free throws to lock up the victory.

Aikens led all scorers with 25 points and added seven rebounds, three steals and three assists.

Drone scored 17, including seven each to lead the comeback efforts in the second and fourth quarters.

“Drone hit some big, crucial shots for us tonight,” Jackson said. “He’s been on and off this year but he’s a great team player. We need some more consistency out of him because he can be a really effective leader on the floor for us. Tonight was a great start.”

Both teams are off until after Christmas. Lonoke travels to Wynne while North Pulaski plays in a tournament at Camden-Fairview.